Johnny Van Zant Dishes On Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Farewell Tour, Steven Tyler And Why He Loves A Little Chicken Fried

More than four rocking decades are about to come to a southern style close this year as Lynyrd Skynyrd concludes its nationwide tour in December saying goodbye to its fans. With more than 30 million records sold worldwide, the band, who has been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and produced over 60 albums, has also toured with everyone from The Allman Brothers to Hank Williams, Jr.

We caught up earlier this week with Johnny Van Zant, lead singer of Jacksonville, Florida’s most successful export, to discuss why they decided it was time for the Farewell Tour, his favorite rocker (hint he’s from Boston) and why he loves a little chicken fried.

Did you ever think either “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Freebird” would become as big a hit as they have and still are today?

I don’t think anybody thought that, including my brother who wrote it. I didn’t think I would even be in Lynyrd Skynyrd and here I am 31 years later. God works in mysterious ways. I lost my oldest daughter in January to cancer, so I have a real faith in God. When I’m sad, I listen to music and when I’m happy, I listen to music. Music has always been a great healer.

What made you guys decide that it was time for your Farewell Tour?

I’ll be honest with you Gary’s (Rossington) health hasn’t been good and we wanted to go out to Skynyrd Nation the right way, but don’t think we are going to retire fully. We want to do another album. I have been in the band for 31 years and we are out there every year playing (up to 100 shows a year). A lot of bands take a year or two off, but we didn’t. You get to a point though where physically it may not be possible, so we wanted to go out the right way.

Who have been some of your biggest influences along the way?

Oh God, of course, my older brother Ronnie. I have always loved The Beatles and Muddy Waters. One of my favorite rock singers is Steven Tyler. On the country side, I love Loretta Lynn

Southern rock and country music have become huge sensations in recent years up here in Boston. Would you ever have expected to hear how much northerners love your music?

I always say there are more rebels up north than down south (laughs). Everyone up there wants to be James Dean. It blew my mind when I first heard that people up north love my music, but we are going strong now on four generations. We never had a bad show up in Boston.

We recently spoke with Clay Cook of Zac Brown Band about why the northeast has become such a fan of southern rock and country music in general.

I am so proud of Zac Brown Band. They came on our cruises. When I first heard “Chicken Fried,” I wish I wrote it! (laughs) My hat’s off to them.

What do you think has been the secret to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s longevity?

We produce true songs. I think when people think of Lynyrd Skynyrd, we’re just real common people. As I was pulling into my driveway, I just grabbed the trash cans. We are who we are and I think the fans see that.

How does it feel when you hear how much you guys have influenced today’s country musicians?

It’s great. In a sense, it makes you feel old (laughs), but in a sense you feel like you made it.

What are your thoughts on the trend of country music becoming more mainstream even integrating with rap?

For myself, I like all sorts of things as long as you can go back to true country. The younger kids like this though. I think collaborating with other artists is a great thing.

Lynyrd SkynyrdPhoto Credit: EB Media

Could you share a couple of your most memorable performances?

I would have to say my first performance back in ’85 or ’86 was probably my most memorable. I was pretty nervous and sang the wrong words. I guess the most memorable thing is that I didn’t get stoned to death by Skynyrd fans (laughs). Music has always prevailed. The fans have always stuck with the band and we have been very blessed.

What would be your best piece of advice to a rising musician?

Enjoy the music and what God gave you. Follow your dreams, but always have Plan B.

What’s up next for you?

We’re just looking forward to this year’s tour through the end of the year. We have a great show and are having such a great time even though it has been hotter than heck this summer. It has been sad and fun this year. So many good things have come about from Skynyrd, so it’s a little sad but also rewarding to see it come to an end the way we wanted.